Sharon Birkman Fink, President and CEO, Birkman International

Companies in every business sector today require a new generation of leadership. Employees, customers, stakeholders and governments are taking an unprecedented, active role in decisions that previously were left to the company’s own leaders. This new paradigm requires that businesses identify those persons in their organizations with high potential for leadership – strong leaders who are flexible, able to cope with change and can guide the organization in accepting and meeting the new demands that it faces.

The most reliable and practical source of future leaders is the organization itself. The only typical alternative is to hire away, at significant expense, the talent developed by competitors. Tomorrow’s leaders may function in administrative management or on employee teams, and may currently fill staff or operational roles. They are often diamonds in the rough and need to be found and polished, because, even though they understand their company’s business and culture, they may not be prepared to provide the fundamental leadership skills required to meet both internal and external demands.

Companies must begin the effort to identify employees with the requisite leadership traits early in their careers, so they can cultivate the capabilities of these individuals to advantage as the organization requires. Different types of leaders are needed in different parts of the organization. What motivates a sales team may be very different from what motivates a financial group. There is no “one size fits all” solution, either by functional unit or by leadership style. Through personality testing that reveals and assesses individual strengths and weaknesses, companies can identify which of their current staff might have the natural strength or potential leadership style required in specific operations. Leaders can’t master all leadership styles, so the focus must be on the styles that best fit in each area.

The good news is that basic leadership skills can always be further developed. Assessments can accelerate development by pointing up personal strengths and weaknesses and broadening leadership skills. Objective methods that find the right fit of person and position will encourage high potential candidates to execute to the fullest of their capacities. The next step is to provide training and organizational development to advance potential candidates into the right leadership positions. The training focus should be on measuring and understanding whether the person’s personality traits mesh with specific leadership requirements, and then providing the appropriate mentoring and formal education/training.

Leadership qualities that make a difference in organizational performance can be found within individuals not previously tapped for leadership roles, and specially structured tools for personality assessment can often find these undiscovered leaders. Personality assessments can economically identify where potential leaders are strongest and weakest, pinpointing the hidden assumptions, motivations or interpersonal styles that may inhibit growth and development. By identifying which candidates have the potential to be leaders and the type of leader they are likely to be, personality testing establishes a systematic program for leadership development that can benefit the entire organization.

Once potential leaders throughout the organization are identified, individuals with the appropriate attributes to lead in specific capabilities – whether as a shift manager or a CEO – can be given training and organizational development to advance in leadership positions. The focus of such training should be on measuring and understanding whether the person's personality traits mesh with specific leadership requirements, and then providing the appropriate mentoring, structured socialization and formal education/training.

This kind of planned approach can spell the difference between an aligned and effective organization and one with a leadership and performance deficit. Strong leadership in any organization is not a naturally occurring phenomenon. Leaders need to be identified, skillfully placed in the right position and developed. Such leaders will be best qualified to spur the improvements in quality and service that all employees must commit to in this era of accelerated global competition. Better leaders mean better informed and connected employees who are more motivated and productive, and better able to meet the new standards of performance demanded of them. And leadership potential can be learned, cultivated, honed and enhanced through effective training programs that use accurate personality assessment to identify and nurture employees with the most leadership potential.

Sharon Birkman Fink is President and CEO of Birkman International, Inc. providing a unique assessment tool that accurately measures internal needs, behaviors, occupational preferences and organizational strengths. She can be reached at 713-623-2760 or

The Birkman Method ® has used over 50 years by more than 2 million people and 5,000 organizations worldwide to guide their hiring, retention, motivational and organizational development activities. For more information: or 1-800-215-2760.